Walker, C. J., Madam, 1867-1919

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Madam C.J. Walker was an American entrepreneur, philanthropist, and political and social activist. She is recorded as the first female self-made millionaire in America; her fortune came by developing and marketing a line of cosmetics and hair care products for black women through the business she founded, Madam C. J. Walker Manufacturing Company.

She was born Sarah Breedlove in Delta, Louisiana; she was the first child in her family born into freedom after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed. Sarah moved to Vicksburg, Mississippi after being orphaned at the age of 10 and worked as a domestic servant. She married Moses McWilliams in 1882 and had a daughter, A'Lelia. She remarried in 1894 to John Davis but left him in 1903. She then married Charles Joseph Walker in 1906 and became known as Madam C. J. Walker.

In 1888, Madam C. J. Walker and her daughter moved to St. Louis working as a laundress. She suffered dandfruff and scalp ailments; this was common among black women of her era. She developed a line of hair care products in 1905, selling her products door to door. In 1908, Walker and her husband relocated to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where they opened a beauty parlor and established Lelia College to train "hair cultists." As an advocate of black women's economic independence, she opened training programs in the "Walker System."

In 1910, Walker relocated her businesses to Indianapolis, where she established the headquarters for the Madam C. J. Walker Manufacturing Company. Walker later built a factory, hair salon, and beauty school to train her sales agents, and added a laboratory to help with research.

Walker was a prominent philanthropist and activist. She delivered lectures on political, economic, and social issues at conventions sponsored by powerful black institutions. Her friends and associates included Booker T. Washington, Mary McLeod Bethune, and W. E. B. Du Bois. During World War I, Walker was a leader in the Circle For Negro War Relief and advocated for the establishment of a training camp for black army officers. In 1917, she joined the executive committee of New York chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). She died on May 25, 1919, from kidney failure and complications of hypertension.

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
referencedIn Nettie J. Asberry Photograph Collection, ca. 1917-1941 University of Washington Libraries Special Collections
referencedIn Nettie J. Asberry Photograph Collection, ca. 1917-1941 University of Washington Libraries Special Collections
referencedIn Papers of Charlotte Hawkins Brown, 1900-1961 Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
referencedIn Papers of Charlotte Hawkins Brown, 1900-1961 Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
creatorOf Madam C.J. Walker papers, 1910-1980. Indiana Historical Society Library
referencedIn People of Indianapolis, 1983 Indiana University, Bloomington. Center for the Study of History and Memory
referencedIn Black Americana : miscellaneous collection, ca. 1880-1957 Stanford University. Department of Special Collections and University Archives
Role Title Holding Repository
referencedIn Homespun Heroines and Other Women of Distinction.
referencedIn Indiana NHL Madame C.J. Walker Manufacturing Company United States. National Archives and Records Administration
referencedIn Lifting as They Climb.
referencedIn The 100 Greatest Women of All Time.
referencedIn 100 Women Who Shaped World History.
Relation Name
associatedWith Asberry, Nettie J., 1865-1968. person
associatedWith Bethel A.M.E. Church (Indianapolis, Ind.) corporateBody
associatedWith Bethune, Mary McLeod, 1875-1955 person
associatedWith Breedlove, Anjetta. person
associatedWith Brokenburr, Robert Lee, 1886-1974. person
associatedWith Brown, Charlotte Hawkins, 1883-1961. person
relativeOf Bundles, A'Lelia Perry person
associatedWith Bundles, S. Henry. person
associatedWith Du Bois, W. E. B. (William Edward Burghardt), 1868-1963 person
associatedWith Indiana University Center for the Study of History and Memory corporateBody
associatedWith Johnson, James Weldon, 1871-1938 person
associatedWith Joyner, Marie. person
founderOf Madam C.J. Walker College of Beauty Culture. corporateBody
founderOf Madam C.J. Walker Manufacturing Company. corporateBody
associatedWith Malone, Annie T., 1869-1957 person
memberOf National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. corporateBody
associatedWith National Association of Colored Women's Clubs (U.S.) corporateBody
associatedWith National Beauty Culturists and Benevolent Association of Madam C.J. Walker Agents, Inc. corporateBody
associatedWith National Negro Business League (U.S.) corporateBody
associatedWith Palmer Memorial Institute (Sedalia, N.C.) corporateBody
associatedWith Perry, Mae Walker. person
associatedWith Perry, Marion R. person
associatedWith Ransom, Freeman B. (Freeman Bailey), 1882-1974. person
associatedWith Ransom, Willard B. person
associatedWith Reynolds, Violet. person
parentOf Robinson, A'Lelia Walker, 1885-1931. person
associatedWith Roosevelt, Theodore, 1858-1919 person
associatedWith Scott, Emmett J. (Emmett Jay), 1873-1957 person
associatedWith Tandy, Vertner W., 1921-1996 person
associatedWith Tuskegee University corporateBody
associatedWith Walker Building (Indianapolis, Ind.) corporateBody
associatedWith Walker Theatre (Indianapolis, Ind.) corporateBody
associatedWith Washington, Booker T., 1856-1915 person
associatedWith Young Men's Christian Association (Indianapolis, Ind.) corporateBody
Place Name Admin Code Country
Delta LA US
Irvington-on-Hudson NY US
African Americans
Hair preparations
African American executives
Beauty culture
Business records
African Americans--Vocational education
Hair preparations industry
African American consumers
African American business enterprises
African Americans--Societies, etc
African American women
Cosmetics industry
African Americans--Social life and customs


Birth 1867-12-23

Death 1919-05-25




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